Cardoso’s killer escapes again

New York, December 8, 2008–The convicted murderer of Mozambique’s foremost investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, escaped from his high-security cell in on Sunday morning, local journalists told CPJ. This is the third time the assassin Anibal dos Santos Jr., commonly referred to as Anibalzinho, has escaped prison in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo. 

First arrested in 2001, Anibalzinho was serving a nearly 30-year sentence for his part in the November 2000 murder of Cardoso. Anibalzinho escaped in September 2002 to South Africa and again in 2004 to Canada. The five other individuals convicted in the killing are still in prison.  

“We’re distressed to learn that Anibalzinho has escaped for the third time, but even more distressed to learn about allegations of official complicity,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Tom Rhodes. “Authorities in Mozambique must do everything in their power to ensure Anibalzinho is caught and that those who assisted in his escape are brought to justice.” 

The Maputo city director of the Criminal Investigation Police, Dias Balate, told reporters in a Sunday afternoon press conference that Anibalzinho and two other convicted murderers, unrelated to Cardoso’s case, escaped at 10 a.m. on Sunday through a hole in the prison wall, possibly using a screwdriver found in one of the cells, Balate said. Police embarked on a manhunt on Monday and issued a countrywide alert after their escape, local journalists told CPJ.

Interior Minister Jose Pacheco has accused policemen on duty of facilitating the escape, according to local reports. Pacheco has detained all the police on duty and those working the previous shift, Paul Fauvet, journalist and author of a seminal book on Cardoso, Telling the Truth in Mozambique, told CPJ. According to Fauvet, who is based in Maputo, the three fugitives would have had to bore though a cement wall at least (8 inches (20 centimeter) thick and crossed the prison yard without any guards noticing in broad daylight.

Veteran journalist Fernando Lima, a close colleague and friend of Cardoso, told CPJ that many journalists were concerned Anibalzinho might escape again because of lax prison security. The January 2006 trial judge that convicted Anibalzinho rejected a request from the prosecution lawyer, Lucinda Cruz, who called for Anibalzinho to serve his sentence in Portugal, where he has citizenship.

In 2002, a group of elite police officers known as the Red Berets admitted to helping Anibalzinho escape prison, according to the private weekly Savana. The police officers who were members of former President Joachim Chissano’s Presidential Guard said they were acting “on orders from above,” Savana reported.

Cardoso, a leading voice against political corruption and organized crime, was shot multiple times while covering a 1996 corruption scandal involving the state-controlled Commercial Bank of Mozambique. Cruz revealed in the 2006 prosecution that Anibalzinho was hired to silence Cardoso by two members of the Abdul Satar family, who had pulled off a multimillion-dollar bank fraud.

Cardoso founded the press organization Mediacoop in 1992, and later launched a fax newsletter called Metical. The veteran investigative journalist revolutionized newspapers in Mozambique by starting fax and e-mail newspapers in 1991.